I am a perfectionist.

There. I said it.

I have been one since I was very little. In fact, when I was just six, we had a spelling test in class and I got one word wrong. One word. I think I even spelt the word wrong by one letter. Even so, I remember running to my teacher, crying, arguing that “I know how to spell this word, it is so unfair!” My 6-year old self was lucky because my teacher then asked me how to spell the word, I got it right, she changed my grade, the tears stopped and I was happy.

Occurrences like these are SO familiar to me because they happened regularly throughout my childhood.

Recently, after an incredibly long hiatus, perfectionism popped back into my life and this time around, I truly want to put some effort into trying to understand it and my relationship with it.

I recently wrote an essay and like most of my essays this semester, I put a great deal of effort and time into ensuring this piece was one of my best. I submitted a draft, I spent hours editing and I felt incredibly confident when I hit that ‘submit’ button. This semester I have done wonders on most of my essays, receiving Distinctions and even when D’s weren’t at the bottom of my papers, I was always one or two marks off.

So, when I received a high pass on this essay, I was shocked. Astounded. Angry. Almost. In. Tears. Why? I was marks off getting a credit and the feedback I had received was more than adequate. A high pass, or any kind of pass for that matter, isn’t a bad mark, so why was I so damn upset at myself for getting a pass?

I argued that I was upset for many different reasons; it was the lecturer’s fault, she was a hard marker, she isn’t my usual lecturer so she doesn’t know me. It was every excuse under the sun purely because I didn’t want to be shit at social work. 

Following my supposed “bad mark” I made an appointment with the lecturer who marked my essay and in not so many words, during our meeting, I demanded what exactly I was doing so wrong, that she had to give me such a low mark…

Warning: I learnt a shit-load about myself that I definitely was not expecting during this 20-minute appointment. 

So I went in wanting to know what I did wrong, and I left having this exceptionally strong understanding of why I thought of everything I didn’t get right, as something that I was doing wrong.

In other words; I understood that just because you don’t get something right, it doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. 

I never thought I would be able to develop such a deep understanding of myself, from a lecturer I hardly knew in just a 20 minute time period. Alas, this lecturer, this almost-stranger, had me thinking of why.

Why did I feel so strongly about this mark?

Why was I disappointed in myself in this incident?

Why was I so hard on myself? This question became the core of our conversation; the fact that for years, especially during that aforementioned incident when I was 6 years old, I have simply given myself this challenge, this expectation that I have to be the best at whatever I choose. In this case, academics.

So here’s what I learnt about myself from this lecturer:

  • Me being a perfectionist is never going to go away-even though throughout high school I was not the least bit concerned about receiving a Pass.
  • In being a perfectionist, I love to set myself challenges and expectations.
  • This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; having expectations allows me to challenge myself to do better.
  • However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing; I have to give myself a break, to learn to be happy even when I don’t get the mark I was expecting.
  • The reason I challenge myself to be the best academically, is because I feel as though I have to be good at something. I’m not an athlete and growing up I remember that society said you had to either be an academic or an athlete and because I couldn’t be an athlete, I had to be the freakin’ best academically-and I always made sure I was.
  • As Theodore Roosevelt so simply put it, comparison is the thief of joy and by needing to be perfect at everything, I’ve compared myself to so many people around me who seem perfect in their chosen fields; my brother is a damn good athlete and so I had to be a damn good academic. My friend is a talented trumpet player and so I have to be a damn good academic. That girl over there is getting recognised for her efforts in anything and so naturally, I have to be recognised as being a damn good academic. 
  • Which leads me to the last point that I discovered about myself; I need people to know that I am good at something. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessarily a good thing; it’s just about teaching myself that I don’t really need everyone to know that I’m good at anything.

As I came out of that room I was just in awe. Never in my life, had I imagined that walking into that room, as upset and angry at myself and this lecturer that I was, would I walk away with such a deep understanding of myself. 

This is what I LOVE about Social Work though! That no matter how many times you have to write essays about self-reflection or delve into the discussion about self-reflection; there is always so much more to learn because there are so many layers to our self that we are yet to discover.

Alas, that’s why I keep going back for more; because social work always has so much more to give.

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